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Queen Bee of Tuscany; The Redoubtable Janet Ross

Queen Bee of Tuscany; The Redoubtable Janet Ross

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An engrossing examination of a fascinating woman and her irresistible worldBen Downing’s Queen Bee of Tuscany brings an extraordinary Victorian back to life. Born into a distinguished intellectual family and raised among luminaries such as Dickens and Thackeray, Janet Ross married at eighteen and went to live in Egypt. There, for the next six years, she wrote for the London Times, hobnobbed with the developer of the Suez Canal, and humiliated pashas in horse races. In 1867 she moved to Florence, Italy where she spent the remaining sixty years of her life writing a series of books and hosting a colorful miscellany of friends and neighbors, from Mark Twain to Bernard Berenson, at Poggio Gherardo, her house in the hills above the city. Eventually she became the acknowledged doyenne of the Anglo-Florentine colony, as it was known. Yet she was also immersed in the rural life of Tuscany: An avid agriculturalist, she closely supervised the farms on her estate and the sharecroppers who worked them, often pitching in on grape and olive harvests.      Spirited, erudite, and supremely well-connected, Ross was one of the most dynamic women of her day. Her life offers a fascinating window on fascinating times, from the Risorgimento to the rise of fascism.     Encompassing all this rich history, Queen Bee of Tuscany is a panoramic portrait of an age, a family, and our evolving love affair with Tuscany.
An engrossing examination of a fascinating woman and her irresistible worldBen Downing’s Queen Bee of Tuscany brings an extraordinary Victorian back to life. Born into a distinguished intellectual family and raised among luminaries such as Dickens and Thackeray, Janet Ross married at eighteen and went to live in Egypt. There, for the next six years, she wrote for the London Times, hobnobbed with the developer of the Suez Canal, and humiliated pashas in horse races. In 1867 she moved to Florence, Italy where she spent the remaining sixty years of her life writing a series of books and hosting a colorful miscellany of friends and neighbors, from Mark Twain to Bernard Berenson, at Poggio Gherardo, her house in the hills above the city. Eventually she became the acknowledged doyenne of the Anglo-Florentine colony, as it was known. Yet she was also immersed in the rural life of Tuscany: An avid agriculturalist, she closely supervised the farms on her estate and the sharecroppers who worked them, often pitching in on grape and olive harvests.      Spirited, erudite, and supremely well-connected, Ross was one of the most dynamic women of her day. Her life offers a fascinating window on fascinating times, from the Risorgimento to the rise of fascism.     Encompassing all this rich history, Queen Bee of Tuscany is a panoramic portrait of an age, a family, and our evolving love affair with Tuscany.

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Publish date: Jun 18, 2013
Added to Scribd: May 23, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercialISBN:9780374239718

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux18 West 18th Street, New York 10011Copyright © 2013 by Ben Downing All rights reservedPrinted in the United States of AmericaFirst edition, 2013Owing to limitations of space, all acknow ledgments for permission to reprint previously publishedmaterial can be found on page 339.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataDowning, Ben, 1967–Queen bee of Tuscany : the redoubtable Janet Ross / Ben Downing.—First edition.pages cmIncludes bibliographical references and index.ISBN 978-0-374-23971-8 (alkaline paper) 1. Ross, Janet, 1842–1927. 2. Ross, Janet, 1842–1927—Homes and haunts—Italy—Tuscany. 3. Ross, Janet, 18421927—Friends and associates. 4. British—Italy—Tuscany—Biography. 5. Women—Italy—Tuscany—Biography. 6. ExilesTuscany—Biography. 7. Tuscany (Italy)—Biography. 8. Tuscany (Italy)—Social lifeand customs—20th century. I. Title.DG738.79.R67 D69 2013945'.5084092—dc23[B]2012048078Designed by Jonathan D. Lippincott  ww.fsgbooks.com   www.twitter.com/fsgbooks • ww.facebook .com/fsgbooks 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
 
O
n February 24, 1847, at 8 Queen Square in Bloomsbury, Lon-don, there took place a party whose guests included the novel-ist William Makepeace Thackeray, the controversial author andfeminist Caroline Norton, the illustrator Richard “Dicky” Doyle,the playwright Tom Taylor, and the Whig statesman Lord Lans-downe. Everyone in the group already being acquainted, there wasnothing odd about their assembly. Somewhat unusual, however, was the occasion itself, for they’d come to celebrate the birthday of a five- year-old girl, who, allowed to draw up the guest list, had in- vited only adults—she was the only child present. Thackeray, she would later recall, mischievously gave her an oyster, expecting her tofind it vile. “But I turned the tables on him, for I liked it, and in-sisted, as queen of the day, on having two more of his.Spirited, brassy, imperious: Janet Duff Gordon at age five wasalready on course to become the queenly Janet Ross. But even themost precocious child doesn’t cultivate her own highbrow coterie,and what this little scene also hints at is the nature of the family thatproduced her, especially on the distaff side. Thackeray and the rest were friends of her parents, Alexander and Lucie, who in fostering arapport between their daughter and their friends were extending atradition established by Lucie’s grandmother. Later in life Janet would develop a keen interest in this tradition, and in the women
ONE
A Dynasty of Sorts

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Publishers Weekly reviewed this
Star-studded with dignitaries, nobles, literati, and other famous folk of the Victorian age, poet Downing's (The Calligraphy Shop) nonfiction debut tells the fascinating larger-than-life story of Janet Ross. Born and raised amongst the intellectual set in England, Ross left as soon as she was able-to live first in Egypt, and then in Florence, where she joined an already settled colony of emigres and set about bucking every convention of her time. Henry James described her as "an odd mixture of the British female and the dangerous woman-a Bohemian with rules and accounts." An avid horsewoman with few maternal instincts, Ross freely spoke her mind, wrote several books, managed her own estate, and even made and marketed her own vermouth. She seemed to know or be connected to everyone-at one of her birthday parties, she hosted William Makepeace Thackeray, feminist Caroline Norton, playwright Tom Taylor, and Whig statesmen Lord Lansdowne. And that was her fifth birthday-she was the sole author of the guest list. Downing's breathless coverage of Ross and her "Anglo-Tuscan" coterie can be a bit overwhelming- name-dropping at times overshadows narrative-but those enamored with the history, society, and culture of Victorian England and the expatriate community will relish this engrossing biography. Agent: Irene Skolnick, the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

2013-03-25, Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly reviewed this
Star-studded with dignitaries, nobles, literati, and other famous folk of the Victorian age, poet Downing's (The Calligraphy Shop) nonfiction debut tells the fascinating larger-than-life story of Janet Ross. Born and raised amongst the intellectual set in England, Ross left as soon as she was able-to live first in Egypt, and then in Florence, where she joined an already settled colony of emigres and set about bucking every convention of her time. Henry James described her as "an odd mixture of the British female and the dangerous woman-a Bohemian with rules and accounts." An avid horsewoman with few maternal instincts, Ross freely spoke her mind, wrote several books, managed her own estate, and even made and marketed her own vermouth. She seemed to know or be connected to everyone-at one of her birthday parties, she hosted William Makepeace Thackeray, feminist Caroline Norton, playwright Tom Taylor, and Whig statesmen Lord Lansdowne. And that was her fifth birthday-she was the sole author of the guest list. Downing's breathless coverage of Ross and her "Anglo-Tuscan" coterie can be a bit overwhelming- name-dropping at times overshadows narrative-but those enamored with the history, society, and culture of Victorian England and the expatriate community will relish this engrossing biography. Agent: Irene Skolnick, the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

2013-03-25, Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly reviewed this
Star-studded with dignitaries, nobles, literati, and other famous folk of the Victorian age, poet Downing's (The Calligraphy Shop) nonfiction debut tells the fascinating larger-than-life story of Janet Ross. Born and raised amongst the intellectual set in England, Ross left as soon as she was able-to live first in Egypt, and then in Florence, where she joined an already settled colony of emigres and set about bucking every convention of her time. Henry James described her as "an odd mixture of the British female and the dangerous woman-a Bohemian with rules and accounts." An avid horsewoman with few maternal instincts, Ross freely spoke her mind, wrote several books, managed her own estate, and even made and marketed her own vermouth. She seemed to know or be connected to everyone-at one of her birthday parties, she hosted William Makepeace Thackeray, feminist Caroline Norton, playwright Tom Taylor, and Whig statesmen Lord Lansdowne. And that was her fifth birthday-she was the sole author of the guest list. Downing's breathless coverage of Ross and her "Anglo-Tuscan" coterie can be a bit overwhelming- name-dropping at times overshadows narrative-but those enamored with the history, society, and culture of Victorian England and the expatriate community will relish this engrossing biography. Agent: Irene Skolnick, the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

2013-03-25, Publishers Weekly
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